The parent preference

Bedtimes are pretty lovely now when it’s my night to put Avery to bed. She’s agreeable, and she loves to flop on her bed and read the agreed-upon number of books together, and then cuddle in close to fall asleep. I listen to her singing songs quietly to herself, and I get lots of kisses and hugs.

But when my wife puts her to bed, it’s still cause for an emotional breakdown. My wife does bedtime for 2 nights on, 2 nights off. We take turns, and keep that pattern consistent. But on the nights my wife is on, Avery screams and cries that she doesn’t want her Mo – she wants to sleep with mommy. She won’t let her Mo hold her books and instead piles them up at her bedroom door saying they’re for mommy. She pleads with her Mo that mommy is right on the other side of the door (“mommy right there!”) and that she wants mommy instead. Eventually, after about 10 minutes of crying and pleading, she gives in and lets her Mo read her books and then cuddles up with her to fall asleep. But if she so much as hears a floorboard creak outside her door, she gets upset again, asking for mommy. I take off as soon as I’ve said goodnight and get as far away from her room as possible because I hate hearing her cry for me when I can’t go to her.

It’s so hard on my wife. I don’t know what to do to change the situation, if there’s even anything we can do. I hope she comes around to her Mo soon.

On a related note, she still asks for milk at every bedtime, even though we weaned almost 2 months ago. She asks, and then remembers, “milk all gone.” She then settles for her water, but will “forget” and ask again a couple of times during each bedtime. It’s wild how hard-wired nursing was in her brain, and how hard it was for her to give it up.

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I miss breastfeeding

When I look at my tired old breasts now I see vestiges of what they once were – what they could be. Light and empty, they hang there useless against my chest. I miss breastfeeding. When I see both new babies and older toddlers at their parent’s breast for nourishment and comfort, I feel a pang of guilt in my stomach. My almost-2-year-old still asks for milk at bedtime every now and then, even though It’s been over a month since we weaned. She asks with a sadness in her voice, because she knows I have no milk left to give. Instead, I let her rest her hand on my chest and I listen as her mouth starts making that nursing sound into the darkness. She would still derive so much comfort and connection from breastfeeding.

There have been very few moments since weaning that have made me feel thankful for being done with breastfeeding. Ocassionally I’m happy to have a bedtime to myself, but mostly I just miss laying with her anyway, and my poor wife still struggles with being our daughter’s second choice. I listen through the monitor as she drifts off to sleep next to my wife, muttering “mommy on other side the door? Mommy missing?”

I thought I’d be thankful for the freedom of having my body back, but all that freedom afforded me was the ability to have more than one drink before bedtime, and it turns out that two drinks makes me feel rather nauseous now. I’d much rather be able to feed and comfort my child with my body than to have my body all to myself for the purpose of having more booze.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say with this post – I’m just writing down my feelings. I don’t regret weaning, per say, but I do now question my motives for weaning when we did. From the moment breastfeeding started to become second nature to us, I assumed we’d continue on until she weaned herself. I assumed that would be well after the age of 2. But I wanted to help my wife feel like less of a “second” parent. We felt that ending the breastfeeding relationship that bonded us together so powerfully would create more of a level playing field between parents. But the truth is, I’m still in the role of primary caregiver. I spend way more time with our daughter, and that makes me more in-tune with her needs, and that makes me the natural first choice to come to when she needs something.

I also question myself now for being motivated by social pressure. I felt it as soon as she turned one. People were often surprised to hear that our daughter still nursed to sleep (or nursed to sleep at all, since that’s frowned upon by more conservative, by-the-book parents). When I expressed some mixed feelings about weaning, a family member told me that she was too old for that anyway. I heard a lot of comments about independence, and how breastfeeding a toddler was effectively keeping her dependent on me, like I just couldn’t let my baby go even though she wasn’t a baby anymore.

I know there’s no turning back, and I’m ok with that. I’ll always let her rest her hand on me, where she once got all of her nourishment, comfort, and that rush of love hormones. I’ll always smile when I hear that tongue clicking noise in the night, as her muscle memory lives on. And when she looks at my chest now with love in her expression and asks to plant a kiss on a part of me that was always there for her, my heart will always melt into a puddle on the floor. Despite society’s perverse warning that breastfeeding toddlers and older children will leave them with inappropriate memories of nursing at their mother’s breast, I know that my daughter has happy memories of our breastfeeding relationship, and I hope she’ll always feel that special, nourishing, connection to me.

Nap training a toddler

Avery hasn’t napped anywhere but in the car or in the stroller since we weaned. She has given us a few tantrums when we’ve tried. One of them even lasted for 2 hours before I gave up on nap time for that day. But she has been starting to refuse to get into the stroller when she knows it’s to nap, and I can’t keep burning gas for a 2 hour nap. So, nap training had to happen.

Day 1.

It was a bit unplanned. I realized the stroller was in the back of my wife’s car, at work with her. I explained to Avery on the drive home from her half-day daycare that we were going to have a nap in her bed today, because it was time for her to learn to fall asleep in a bed at naptime. I told her we could read a book and then we’d lay down together on her bed.

She started crying immediately – still on the drive home. “No bed!!! Mommy drive car!! Tv!! Paw patrol!! No bed!” She was begging for any alternative.

I dragged her, kicking and screaming, into the house and up to her room. I dimmed the lights.

For the next hour and a half, she had a violent tantrum. I had to hold the door closed (from the inside – I stayed with her). I asked if she wanted me to leave, in case my presence was making it worse, but she said “mommy stay!”. She screamed like a demon. I tried to strike a balance in my voice between calm/loving and stern/confident. I kept my words short and infrequent to allow her to get her rage out. When I spoke, I repeated,

“I love you, and you need to sleep.”

“We’re staying here for nap time. You can cry on the floor, or you can come and cuddle with me and go to sleep.”

“Come to bed now.”

She didn’t calm down and take a breath. Like, at all. I eventually had to start physically removing her from her door handle and putting her in bed. Every other second. When I would say “I love you” she started to scream “I love you” back, and I began to worry that I was somehow emotionally abusing her – making her think she needed to say I love you to get away from my grasp. I had to physically block her from leaving her bed. Her eyes were rolling back in her head. I could just see white through her exhausted squint. She had bags under her eyes. She was hoarse, losing her voice. She could barely stand up when she would escape the bed – she’d stumble and fall and hit her head on the floor. She was so exhausted.

We were both soaked in sweat. Her hair was plastered to her forehead.

I knew I couldn’t lose resolve, or this would all be for nothing. She wouldn’t understand why I was being so authoritative if I suddenly gave up and let her leave her room and not nap. It was hard.

But then she went limp. She just couldn’t fight any more. She whimpered, through closed eyes, “read book?” I grabbed her favourite alphabet bedtime book from beside the bed and started reading it very quietly and softly. Her eyes remained closed. Once I heard the snores, I put down the book and breathed. It worked.

Now to do it all over again tomorrow.

Duty Calls: Balancing work & family

We’ve been away every weekend this summer, we’ve been sick a lot making for a lot of missed daycare, and our daycare provider is on holidays this week. I haven’t been getting work done. Tonight, my wife is primary caregiver while I sit at a restaurant/lounge and do some work over a pint.

It feels different than it used to to sit at this place and work. When you’re a parent, part of your brain is always on your child(ren). I can’t get lost in my work like I used to. I know my wife will be totally fine with the full bedtime routine because she has been doing so well putting Avery to sleep since we weaned, but I feel shitty about the way I had to leave Avery tonight – I had to sneak out. I tried saying goodbye in a casual, non-chalant way – “see ya later, sweetie, I have to go do some work,” but she started screaming and clung to my legs begging to be picked up. So we got her distracted with some fun task and I snuck out.

She has been very sensitive about my absence lately. You can see her get nervous as bedtime approaches, not knowing if she’ll get me or her Mo. We have yet to settle into a new routine regarding which one of us puts her to bed. I’ve put her to sleep twice now, and it has gone fairly well both times. We’re going to settle into a two-nights-on two-nights-off schedule so that bath night (which happens every other night) isn’t always the same parent’s responsibility. The parent who gives her her bath and gets her ready for bed won’t be the same parent who reads her books in bed and lays with her till she falls asleep. She’ll get both of us every night. She just has to get used to the new normal.

I’m still in a “I miss breastfeeding” phase.I feel like I’ve lost a superpower. But I know it’s not a real regret, just nostalgia. And Avery only asks for milk once every other day or so now, and doesn’t get upset when I remind her that it’s all gone. She has been such a strong little person.

I am not a breastfeeding parent.

We had planned for Sunday night to be our last time breastfeeding, but I got cheated out of that one last time, and my sick and vomiting child had to get through the night with no milk earlier than we’d planned. And now there’s no turning back. Let me explain…

Saturday night was my wife’s night to do bedtime. We were at the cottage. Avery seemed to understand what we’d been telling her about the milk supply soon coming to an end. She seemed to be starting to accept the fact that her Mo would be putting her to bed more and more. Usually, when my wife puts her to bed, she cries and calls for mommy for about 5 minutes before giving up and happily reading books and cuddling with her Mo until she falls asleep. The easiest way to get her to settle is for me to say a super quick goodnight and leave. I can’t even hug her goodnight or she’ll cling to me like super glue and it’ll make my departure much harder.

But Saturday night, she sat on her bed next to her Mo and turned red in the face as she held in her tears, and she extended her puckered lips toward me for a goodnight kiss. I got to kiss her goodnight and leave the room and she didn’t cry, for the first time.

While my wife did bedtime, I was watching the sunset over the water and drinking Prosecco (because cottage and no breastfeeding duties). I’d had 3 drinks. My wife rejoined me after Avery had fallen asleep. All was well with the world.

And then we heard a cry. It’s now unusual for Avery to wake up again in the evening, and we knew it was a cry of “something’s wrong.” My wife investigated. Minutes later, I was called to the scene to change her vomit-covered sheets. Avery had a stomach bug (thankfully a mild one). She vomited three times. I quickly changed her sheets while my wife changed Avery’s pajamas and washed the vomit out of her hair and off her face with a damp cloth. Avery reached for me. Because of the situation, my wife and I agreed that I could step in. I hugged her. I sat with her until we knew the vomiting had stopped. I laid down with her. She asked for milk, but I couldn’t give it to her because I’d had three generous glasses of alcohol. I simply said “I’m sorry, I know you want milk because you’re not feeling well, but there’s no more milk.” (She did have water and almond milk right beside her). She didn’t even whimper a protest. She simply wrapped her arm around my neck and snuggled.

She lay there with her eyes open for about 15 minutes, and eventually fell sound asleep, for the first time (with me) not on the boob.

So we decided to take that win and not turn back. If she can fall asleep next to me without freaking out for milk when she has a stomach bug and has just vomited all over herself, she can fall asleep this way every other time.

Theoretically.

For now, I miss her intensely at bedtime. I ran an errand at bedtime last night just to get out of the house, and I cried in the car.

And although bedtimes have been going well so far, our first nap (not in a car) did not go well. That’s on me because my wife is at work over nap time. I’ll wait out the week before writing about the nap situation.

Children’s Books about Family Diversity

After watching my daughter’s daycare provider fumble and brush off a child’s question about my daughter’s “dad” – and coming to terms with my own lack of having just the right thing to say in the moment – I wanted to get more acquainted with children’s books that broach the subject of diverse families. Reading enough books about others’ lived experiences can solve all the world’s problems. I truly believe that.

So I headed to my local library and found some real gems.

This post contains affiliate links. I could really use your help to secure my place in Amazon’s affiliate program. I still need two more books to be purchase by following one of these links in my blog (on this page or this one) in order to be accepted. Driving amazon sales through my blog won’t bring home the bacon for me, but it will help to offset some of the costs of having this blog.

The Family Book

After my previous post about baby books for raising socially conscious kids, my friend Speck of Awesome recommended this one.

This book is written in a celebratory tone: All families are special. It also paints diversity as the norm, rather than telling a tale about one special family that is “different”. Another thing I like about this book is it’s international applicability. I believe the families represented in the book reflect far more than the typical Western, Colonial family structures we are familiar with. This is more than a book about same-sex parents, adoption, and mixed race families (although those discussions alone would be enough to make me happy at this point); it’s more inclusive than that.

One thing to warn about in this book is that it mentions “all families are sad when they lose someone they love.” I believe this is a great piece to include in a book about families, but I’m also not ready to talk about death with my toddler. I don’t really want to provoke those questions about loss and permanence of loss. The book also seems to leave out polyamorous families (leaves it at, “some families have one parent instead of two”). Otherwise, top notch reading material for kids and their caregivers.

Stella Brings the Family

This book is about a child first realizing that her family looks different from other families in her school. She not only learns that all families actually look a little different from each other, but she also learns to celebrate her family and define them for herself. The book addresses how a mother’s day project at school might impact a child with two dads, but it’s relatable for any kind of family. I really have no qualms with this book. It’s a cute story and it has earned a permanent place on our bookshelf!

We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families

This is a really sweet book about families created through adoption, and in typical Todd Parr style, the families represented in its pages are diverse. The “races” of the family members are ambiguous because Parr uses all colours of the rainbow as skin colours – but, he still mixes the colours within the families because, of course, not all members of a family need to share the same skin colour. Some of the family types represented include a single mom, a single dad, elderly (i.e., grey haired) parents, mixed race parents, two moms, and two dads. The message is sweet and genuine: “We belong together because you needed someone to help you grow up healthy and strong, and I had help to give. Now we can grow up together.”

One Family

This is kind of a counting book, but it does more to represent different types of families than to teach counting. Each page showcases a different family structure. Page one is one person reading to her cat. Page two is a parent or caregiver and one child. Page three is – you guessed it – two parents and a child. The families grow in size and also diversity, some with multiple generations, some with three caregiver-type figures, and of course two moms and two dads are included. What I really like about this book is that the family members are a bit ambiguous, to the point where pretty much anybody could see themselves in one of these families, even though there are only 10 families in the book. I went so far as to imagine that one family was two dads, their baby, their surrogate, their surrogate’s partner and two children, and one grandparent. My wife interpreted this family completely differently. That’s how this book can be so all-encompassing of family types in only 10 pages. And while it doesn’t overtly teach about family diversity in terms of the text, the pictures are inclusive, and most importantly, anyone can see their own family reflected in the pages of this book.

What Makes a Baby

This was on my previous book list about socially conscious baby books. It’s so incredibly relevant to today’s topic, though, that it’s worth including again. What Makes a Baby COULD NOT POSSIBLY be more inclusive. It talks about the three components you need to make a baby: an egg, sperm, and a uterus. It talks about the egg and sperm sharing stories with each other about the body they came from, which I think is a pure genius way to describe to young kids the role of DNA. All family structures, from adoptive to two dads to single mom, will all feel included by this book. And, just as important, kids reading this book will be free from imposed assumptions about family structure. This book opens the mind to the possibilities. And it does so without ever mentioning SEX – so parents who are concerned about discussions of family diversity equalling discussions about sexual activity and sexual preference, fear not. This book is colourful and eye catching with fun graphics and a narrative so clean and simple that I’m pretty sure my <2 year old can understand. Could not recommend this book more.

***Bonus Book***

Hush a Bye, Baby (New Books for Newborns)

This book was a random selection at my local library that I didn’t realize was anything special until my second time reading it. It’s a simple, sweet bedtime book with simple verses that you could read to a newborn or a toddler. Although it doesn’t highlight diverse family types, it does represent a very underrepresented type of parent in children’s books – the DAD (or masculine-presenting parent). Literally all of our children’s books have at least one mom (mommy, mama, etc.). That may be partially due to the fact that we are a dad-less family and we are drawn to books without dads, but I’m quite certain that books highlighting a father’s parenting role are few and far between. Hush a Bye, Baby shows dads of different races solo-parenting their babies at bedtime. Refreshing.

Glimpses of a passion for more than motherhood

When I became a mother – literally, the second my daughter was born and placed on my chest – I lost all interest and passion for anything else in my life. My evaporated passion for research, psychology, and career was worrisome for my wife and others in my life because they feared I’d never return to school to finish my doctorate. My wife, particularly, had lost a part of me that she’d always found attractive – one of the things that drew her to me as a partner was my passion and drive toward my dream career.

In the time since I became a mother I’ve found the patience and determination within me to continue working on my doctorate, but the passion hadn’t returned. Very recently, however, I met with someone I used to volunteer with and we got talking about teaching, teaching theory, and adult learning. That was always one of my passions and a part of the dream career I used to envision for myself, but it, too, had fizzled out. But as we talked, I felt a tiny spark ignite in my brain (or in my soul, maybe), and I started to feel passion for teaching again. I started to feel excited to get back in the classroom. I started to yammer on and on about adult learning theory. When the conversation ended, my excitement diminished again over the course of the day. But it’s almost as if a pilot light had been re-lit. Now it takes less to trigger me into excitement over the research and theory I used to be passionate about.

Today I was randomly wondering why women are expected to make so much noise during sex, and men aren’t. I Google Scholar’ed it and started reading feminist research on sexuality and I felt hungry for it, like I couldn’t ingest enough of it. I started to crave a good conversation on the topic and wanted to call up a peer who specializes in this area and go for a coffee.

This kind of passion for knowledge, for reading academic articles, for critiquing theory and methods, had been gone for so long. But I’m catching more and more glimpses of that old side of me. I’m hopeful now that I might actually return to wanting something more for myself than motherhood alone. I’m hopeful for this because I don’t want to deny myself of the career I’d always dreamed of because of the way I feel about motherhood RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to wake up one day feeling less completely consumed by motherhood and realize that I’m discouragingly far away from that dream career that I had been so close to before motherhood.